1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
Last week we meditated on three of Paul’s exhortations to the folks in a young, growing church in Thessalonica (5:16-18). This week we will have our attention on five more imperatives that the Apostle gives this young church. Reflecting on verse 12, where this section of his letter started (vv. 12-22), we find a complete block of instruction for the church that includes these verses in our current study.
These exhortations, encouragements, and commands all have to do with the “internal life of the church,” how we relate to God and one another. Some aspects are more personal (respect leaders, joy, prayer, thankfulness), others are more corporate (not quenching the Spirit, prophetic utterances, and abstaining from evil). It is with these more corporate or congregational appeals that we are looking into now.
“Do not quench the Spirit.”
FOCUS ONE: One of the ways the Holy Spirit is described throughout scripture is as a “flame” or “fire” (Matthew 3:11; Acts 2:3-4; Isaiah 4:4). Those descriptives, generally speaking, refer to how He works in people, i.e., enlightening minds, empowering them for a particular work, convicting of sin, etc. According to the Apostle, this fire, this working of the Holy Spirit, can be quenched! According to biblical Greek usage, that means that it can be extinguished or put out. Much like a fireman uses water hoses to extinguish the flames of a fire, we can diminish or even put out His desired working within us if we resist Him.
In other words, the Holy Spirits working within us can be opposed. Paul admonished the Ephesians not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30). For the sake of clarity, I AM NOT talking about a potential loss of salvation, as is made clear in the previously mentioned scripture. But, this grieving happens through our disobedience to Him and His will for us. Our disobedience leads to a hardness of heart as we do not cooperate with the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to produce within us the “fruit” He desires. Paul, very clearly, and adamantly, is warning this church NOT to do such a thing! Christians are not to grieve or quench the Holy Spirits work within; instead, they are to be controlled by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and to walk by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16).
“Do not despise prophetic utterances” (gifts).
FOCUS TWO: There may have been an issue in the church that undervalued spiritual gifts, and in this case, the gift of prophecy. So, Paul, building upon his last warning, urges these Christians to be careful regarding such gifts. This particular gift would have included future prophetic events (Acts 11:28) and current events (Acts 13:2).
This is not the first time that the Apostle dealt with this issue. The Corinthians held an improper view of tongues and were therefore overboard on their beliefs and applications of that gift (1 Corinthians 12-14). The Thessalonians can be contrasted with the Corinthians in that they were indifferent or over-protective while the Corinthians went overboard on their views.
In the Thessalonian church, this seems to have become an issue, most likely because some people misused the gift. Perhaps some were not receiving revelations as others were, so they made up some of their own, and some were likely about the second coming, which, as we already discussed, was a concern to these people (4:13; 5:1-6). So, the danger they were facing was in disregarding any or all revelation coming to the church.
In disregarding such messages, the church would miss out on the blessings of God’s will as it is revealed and suffer a HUGE loss regarding the strengthening, encouragement, and comfort that would come from such revelation.
By way of reminder, Paul told the Corinthians that prophecy would cease, that tongues would be stilled and that knowledge would pass away (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). These were temporary gifts that would not be necessary when the completed canon of scripture is accessible. The New Testament writers would write down God’s revealed will in a completed way-nothing new would need to be added to it!
Like tongues to the Corinthians, the Thessalonian church needed to act in love towards one another since these things will eventually pass away. BUT, Paul IS NOT saying just to let it flow!
“Examine everything, hold fast to what is good.”
FOCUS THREE: He now urges them to be diligent and discerning in their acceptance of what is delivered to them as the word of God. Why? Because a genuine and present danger exists for the church regarding what is true and what is false; what is the divine origin or human. So how are Christians to know the difference? By following this admonition above.
Just because someone says this or that is from God is not sufficient evidence for the Christian to blindly follow. Any claim that something is from God needs to be proven to be such by a Christian’s daily study of His word (Acts 17:11).
Paul does not give and particular criteria for this, but we can safely assume two things:
- For them, the prophetic utterances that sounded true and were in line with the Apostle’s teaching were to be received and applied in their daily lives. We need to keep in mind that the Bible had not been written yet, but as the apostles grew older, the need for their doctrine to be written down became more evident, and so the Holy Spirit inspired these men to write what you and I are blessed to read each day: The written word of God!
- For us, we can examine everything in light of the revealed will of God. We are to compare all things to its teachings.
The Apostle’s exhortation leaves the responsibility of practicing discernment on the individual believer. This is something we are unable to do apart from the Holy Spirit. You and I are not capable of such wisdom, but aided by the Holy Spirit, we can know the will of God (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)!
“Abstain from every form of evil.”
This statement may appear, at first glance, to stand on its own. But, I believe it goes hand and hand with the last appeal. Paul is saying to reject false teachings or prophecies and reject and “abstain from” every form of evil. The Apostle broadens his scope with these words. Aided by the Holy Spirit, the Christian is to act in obedience to God’s revealed will, and in so doing, have nothing to do with evil in any form.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
- 1. Take some time to examine your heart. In what areas of your life are you “grieving” the Holy Spirit? What is it that hinders you from “walking in the Spirit?”
2. How does 2 Timothy 3:16-17 inform us on the Bible’s ability to equip us for our daily walk of faith?
3. How has this study informed and equipped you to “hold fast” to sound teaching?